PBL Junior High School cross country team to host season opener on Aug. 22

PAXTON -- Rob Pacey, head coach of the Paxton-Buckley-Loda Junior High School cross country team, said he is "excited about where we're at as a team" as it neared the end of its second week of practice for the 2017 season.
"The kids have done really well during the first two weeks of practice," Pacey said. "I feel like we had some returning runners make a lot of good progress during track and field, and they've gained a lot of experience. Last year, we were a little bit young as a team. We've got a nice group of returning runners."
Although it was only the second week of practice, Pacey had a chance to know many of his runners, as an average of 20 junior high runners participated in summer running club nights this past summer.
"We've got some kids who have put in good work during the summer to be prepared to have a really good season," Pacey said.
The Panthers enter the season with 45 total runners, Pacey said, with 15 girls and 30 boys.
"It's a good group," Pacey said. "I think both teams have the pieces to do really well this year. We're going to look to qualify a girls team and boys team for the state finals. I'm happy with the numbers and where we're at as a team."
Ryder James returns for his eighth-grade year after finishing 10th last year at the IESA Class 2A state meet. Last spring, James finished third in the 1,600-meter run at the IESA Class AA state track and field meet.
"He is ready for a really big year," Pacey said.
James is joined by Jesse Barfield, Dan Busby, Ephraim Johnson and Keagan Busboom, among other boys' runners.
Barfield finished 21st with a time of 12:11.5 individually at last year's Paxton Sectional while Johnson finished 46th with a time of 12:45 and Busboom finished 46th with a time of 13:23.
"We are not a one-man team, by any means," Pacey said. "We've got quite a few guys. We've got quite a few guys who ran in our top seven at the sectional meet for us and some newer guys who are going to be looking to be in the top seven."
Meanwhile, on the girls' side, Gina Galey finished 27th with a time of 14:08 at sectionals while Jordan Parrish finished 28th with a time of 14:15 and Trixie Johnson finished 37th with a time of 14:57.
"We had a couple of girls who were just a couple of places, and less than 10 seconds, from qualifying for state last year as individuals," Pacey said. "We've had a few little injuries here and there in the course of one season to another and the year prior, but most of those ladies who were in the top seven last year are returning."
Hope Johnson set a seventh-grade girls' school record in 400-meter dash last spring for the PBL JH track and field team after 61st with a time of 16:43 in the cross country sectional. Alexis Putnam finished the sectional with a time of 15:47 while Morgan Uden finished with a time of 15:23.
"We had several other girls who ran personal records in the mile run and for the 800-meter run in track," Pacey said. "We've got quite a few girls who have a lot of experience between track and field and cross country."
The Panthers' season opener will be a home meet at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22. 
PBL's regular season will consist of 12 meets, which was the plan that Pacey and PBL High School cross country coach Dustin Franckey put together, Pacey said, when they put together the schedule after last season.
"I sat down with coach Franckey at the end of last season and we talked about the development of both programs. Franckey is running fewer meets at the level to allow for more training. I felt like we could do the same thing at the junior high level and have some success," Pacey said.
After home meets at 4:15 p.m. Aug. 24, 29 and 31, PBL will participate in a meet hosted by Tri-Valley at Dawson Lake in the Moraine View State Park at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7.
"It's a nice, fast course," Pacey said. "It gives us a good idea of where we're at."
The Panthers will participate in the St. Joseph Invite at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, the Monticello Invite and 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, and host their own invite at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3.
"Those are some key points along the way," Pacey said
PBL's IESA sectional meet will be ran at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7. The Panthers offered to host the sectional, but the IESA has not released the official host site.
"We'll go wherever they send us and try to be in the top three in the sectionals so we can qualify as a team," Pacey said.


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